Author: Cornish, Rick

Take This Hmmer
The rain has returned to Jamestown and, true to form, I spent the summer almost but never quite getting around to patching the roof on my barn. The barn’s where I keep my tools and do my woodworking and, again true to form, I’ve situated my table saw directly underneath a leak in the roof….my radial arm saw’s underneath another leak.

Last year at this time I felt justified in hiring someone to fix the leaks. After all, I told my wife, I work five or six days a week, drive all the way to Stockton every day. And what do I know about leaky roofs? So I started calling roof people. For two weeks I called roof people and I got only one call back, and the call back was annoyed at my even asking if he fixed leaky barns. “You need a handyman,” he said with a look of disdain that only trades people and auto mechanics show me. I gave up for a couple of weeks, but after the first rain, I knew I had to do something. And that’s when a bonified roofer fell right into my lap.

It was at the End-of-the-Summer concert my band played for the little town of Twain Harte. We’d finished our first set when a young fellow, a wiry little guy, came up and introduced himself. He said his name was Joe and he loved bluegrass music….LOVED bluegrass music. We stood talking for a minute and, before going back to his lawn chair, he gave me his business card and said he wanted to be put on the Grass Menagerie’s mailing list. I slipped the card into my jeans pocket and went back to the stage. It was a couple days latter that Lynn found the card when she was doing laundry. “Hey,” she said, “I see you found a roof person.” She was holding Joe's card. What luck, I thought, what incredible luck.

I called Joe and the next day he came over to scope out the job; he brought a friend along, his helper, he said, Steve, even smaller than Joe and kind of gaunt and very speedy, like he was on something. Joe climbed up on the roof to check things out and Steve remained with me. “He’s a great roofer, man, like, I mean he is very, very good. The best, he is the very best. He’s been out two weeks and already we got more work than we can handle.” “Been ‘out’?” I asked. “Yeah,” little speedy said without missing a beat, “out of the Navy. Joe’s just out of the Navy, man. Didn’t he tell you?” “No,” I replied, “he didn’t.”

Joe wanted $425 to fix the leaks and this seemed to me to be a reasonable bid compared to the others I’d gotten, which, of course, were none because no one else in the entire tri-county area wanted to do the work. And besides, I liked Joe….he was genuinely fond bluegrass music, I could tell, and he told me he wanted to learn to play the fiddle. I even gave him a couple of my band’s CD’s before he left.

The next day Joe and Steve came and patched the roof. They’d just finished when I drove up the long gravel driveway. I suggested that I pay them half now and half after it rained, just to make sure the patches worked. Joe explained that that wouldn’t be necessary; they’d test the roof with a hose and sprinkler. “Everything’s ship-shape, man, ship-shape,” Steve said, “tight as a Scotsman.” Joe grinned and nodded. I wrote him a check.

A few days latter it rained and what had been a fairly effective roof had turned into a sieve. Apparently their walking around up on the roof caused it to leak even worse….water had gushed down onto both my saws…the top of my new Delta had already started to rust. It took two days to get Joe on the phone. He was profuse in his apologies, couldn’t understand what had happened, would be over the very next day to make the job good. And the next day he did show up, with Steve, who by now I’d started to really dislike, and together they went back on the roof and patched and patched until everything was, as Steve said, “A-okay.”

And it remained a-okay for an entire week, until the next rain. I called Joe. This time he was a little less apologetic but agreed to come back and fix the leaks. By the time I got home from work the next evening, Joe and Steve had been there and gone. Lynn said they were up at the barn for a short time….maybe forty-five minutes. “Well,” I said, “let’s hope they got it right this time.” This was on a Thursday. The following Saturday morning I went up to my shop to finish a project I’d been working on. I was up there maybe two hours when I was ready to do some finish nailing. I reached for the finish nailer. Gone. The brad gun. Gone. Framing nailer. Gone. CO2 Staple gun, still in the box, a present. Gone. My entire collection of nailers, twelve hundred bucks worth, gone. (My two rusting saws were right where I’d left them.) As I stood in the barn I turned slowly on my heels, surveying the empty spaces, one by one, where the nail guns had once hung. And then it started to rain, huge Mother Lode droplets beating on the steel roof, and when I looked up one smacked me right in the eye.

Of course the sheriff knew Joe and Steve, was aware, in fact, that Joe had just been released from county jail and was even able to ascertain the day following my police report that both were no longer in the county. “Probably in Pomona,” the sheriff said, “Joe’s mom lives in Pomona.” Oh, and yes, Steve was definitely a meth freak. And according to the sheriff, Joe really was an excellent roofer.

I kept a tarp over my saws during winter and had every intention of fixing the barn roof in the spring. Then the summer. Then the fall. In late October the Grass Menagerie played the Twain Harte End-of-the-Summer concert again. There was no way, absolutely no way in the world that Joe would show up. But still I scoured the crowd, scanning from left to right all evening long. Near the end of the second set, we asked for requests. “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms" "Rocky Top" "Foggy Mt. Break Down”. And then, from the back of the crowd, in the shadows, “Take this Hammer!”
Posted:  11/6/2003

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